Posted : 6 months, 1 week ago on 8 May 2018 07:04 (A review of Avengers: Infinity War)
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The nineteenth instalment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2018's Avengers: Infinity War represents the ambitious culmination of this franchise to date. It's a sprawling epic which finally unites nearly all of the MCU's note-worthy characters and pays off lingering subplots, making it a pivotal moment that fans have long anticipated. Happily, the movie is in safe hands with the Russo Brothers at the helm, working from a screenplay by Captain America trilogy scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. After the disappointment of Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron, a change in creative team invigorates Infinity War; it's at least as great as the original Avengers, and easily one of the greatest superhero pictures in history. This third Avengers movie may retain the familiar Marvel formula of incorporating humour, heart and mind-blowing spectacle, but it's the production's psychological depth and daring disposition which makes it one for the ages. It should go without saying, but being familiar with a majority of the previous Marvel movies is a necessity to fully comprehend Infinity War. Although the lack of appeal for the uninitiated might be perceived as a drawback, this is fundamentally the nineteenth movie in a franchise.
In the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers have disbanded, with the heroes now scattered around the world. However, intergalactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) is ready to execute his grand plan to affix all six Infinity Stones to his gauntlet, to allow him to impose his will on reality and re-balance the universe by wiping out half of all life. If he amasses all of the stones, he will be able to kill trillions with one snap of his finger. In a bid to protect the Time Stone, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) find themselves transported to the desolate planet of Titan, Thanos's home world. The Guardians of the Galaxy - Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) - become drawn into the fight after rescuing Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who was left stranded in space following a fatal encounter with Thanos. On Earth, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) seek the help of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as Thanos's Black Order move in, determined to extract the Mind Stone from Vision's head. Meeting with James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has returned to Earth, the team travel to Wakanda where they reunite with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), while King T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) mounts a defence against the impending intergalactic forces.
The directors and writers have stated it multiple times, but Thanos is the true protagonist of Avengers: Infinity War. Armchair critics have slated Marvel's villains for years, but that all changes with Thanos finally taking centre stage here, after hovering around the sidelines of the universe since The Avengers back in 2012. A hulking, mad titan, Thanos has proper motivation for wanting to expunge half of the universe's population; his concerns relate to finite resources, overpopulation, and the balance of life. Thanos genuinely believes that, despite his extreme measures, his quest is noble and, in the long run, people will be grateful for the significant cull, seeing himself as a saviour of sorts. Flashbacks reveal how Thanos first met Gamora, or how his home planet of Titan fell into ruin, permitting a glimpse behind the psychological curtain, elevating Thanos above a more standard-order blockbuster villain who strives to perpetrate evil for evil's sake. There is a feeling of desperateness as Thanos and his Children effortlessly battle the universe's mightiest heroes, raising the stakes and keeping the action sequences uniquely riveting. We may know that the heroes will ultimately triumph over Thanos, but we don't know the exact cost, creating a tension not often glimpsed in superhero productions. Furthermore, Infinity War culminates with a daring, jaw-dropping finale that could only be attempted by a creative team secure in the knowledge that its immediate sequel is already in production and the movie is still going to make billions of dollars.
The narrative of Infinity War does not naturally lend itself to a tidy three-act structure; it's almost wall-to-wall set-pieces, cutting between the multiple factions of heroes who have their own situations to resolve. Thanos represents the through-line, creating a thankful cohesiveness, not to mention Thanos's grand plan creates an urgency which ensures the film is never boring despite its length. Furthermore, while the movie does juggle at least thirty note-worthy characters, it never feels bloated or underdeveloped, thanks to the intricate format of the Marvel Cinema Universe. Whereas DC's ambitious live-action Justice League film fell flat on its face, the MCU's careful decade-long world-building ensures that long-time viewers know each character well enough to become sufficiently invested in the chaos. Nevertheless, Gamora and Quill's romantic relationship should have been better developed prior to the events of Infinity War, particularly since the two only got together at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 after two movies of Quill's schoolboy leering. The romantic angle does play a significant role in the proceedings here, making it slightly disappointing that it's noticeably underdone. However, there is only so much that the Infinity War screenwriters could achieve in a single two-and-a-half-hour motion picture.
Age of Ultron scarcely felt like a Joss Whedon script, as the humour was disappointingly forced and flat. Happily, Infinity War ups the ante in terms of humour; the banter is strong, adding appreciable and effective hilarity to an otherwise solemn story. The lovably blunt Drax is as side-splitting as ever, stealing scenes all over the place, while it's a joy to see Quill and Stark meeting at last. In fact, the primary appeal of Infinity War is seeing established characters meeting for the first time - hell, I could spend hours just watching Thor interacting with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, you will inevitably come away wanting to watch more of your favourite characters interacting, but the Russos do need to pay attention to pacing. Infinity War may lack the intricate moral and political debates of Captain America: Civil War, but there is ample humanity thanks to the delightful bantering and amiable heroes, not to mention psychological underpinnings to Thanos, which is rare in this genre.
With a gargantuan scope made possible by an unprecedented production budget, Infinity War is visually striking from top to bottom, making this one to behold on the largest possible screen. This is a truly epic movie, travelling to numerous different planets and never feeling restrictive. Luckily, whereas Age of Ultron's gloomy cinematography looked downright ugly, Infinity War is a more vibrant, colourful movie, beautifully captured entirely with IMAX cameras. With the two excellent Captain America sequels under their belts, the Russo Brothers adeptly handle Infinity War's intimidating requirements, orchestrating exciting action set-pieces which spotlight a selection of gifted characters, each with their own unique abilities. Despite the scale of the chaos, the throwdowns are visceral and pack genuine impact, particularly the immense climactic showdown on Wakanda. Additionally, Trent Opaloch's cinematography is agreeably smooth, making the action sequences easy to comprehend and enjoy. There is also enough variety to the action to prevent Infinity War from feeling monotonous or repetitive. Furthermore, Infinity War sees the welcome return of veteran composer Alan Silvestri, who scored the first Avengers back in 2012. Rather than generic action movie music, Silvestri's compositions are full of flavour and majesty, astutely making use of the memorable Avengers theme when suitable to underscore badass action beats, inspiring pure ecstasy.
Thanos is a miracle of motion capture; he looks tactile, and carries genuine weight and inertia. Little details in certain shots - such as arm hair, skin imperfections, or tears running into the crevices of his face - drive home the realism of the character, making this one for the ages. The Hulk also continues to impress in terms of sheer texturing, though his presence is minimised compared to previous Avengers instalments. Admittedly, some moments of computer-generated imagery, particularly during the more digitally-driven set-pieces, look obvious or even slightly phoney, lacking in tangibility, but that's almost par for the course with this much CGI on the screen. You could be forgiven for yearning for the time when the Iron Man and War Machine suits were practical whenever possible.
Infinity War's ensemble cast excels all reasonable expectations; the movie even reintroduces an iconic character in a surprise holy-shit reveal for the ages. The production incorporates supporting characters from various solo movies, including Benedict Wong as Wong, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and pretty much the entire ensemble cast of Black Panther. There are certain notable exclusions from the cast, including Jeremy Renner and Paul Rudd, but the next instalment promises to rectify this and further up the ante. Brolin is sensational as Thanos, able to convey ruthlessness as well as vulnerability despite performing through a motion capture suit. It would be dizzying to run through the entire ensemble cast individually, but, suffice it to say, all of the performers hit their respective marks nicely. Fortunately, Infinity War further develops the relationship between Parker and Stark, following on from the events of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it's still a treat to watch their witty interplay. Downey and young Holland both remain exceptional in their roles, oozing charisma and gravitas. An emotionally charged, heartbreaking scene late into the picture is an especially superb showcase for their talents.
Considering its insanely polished construction, it's likely that any reaction to Avengers: Infinity War - aside from basic admiration for the refined cinematic craftsmanship on display - will be wholly based on whether or not you feel serviced, dependent on the extent that the movie uses your favourite characters and how well the pieces of the movie work for you. Of course, as with almost any major movie, small things can be nitpicked, particularly certain character actions or moments of mediocre digital effects, but none of the minor imperfections are enough to tarnish this excellent superhero blockbuster. Also, it will inevitably play better following the release of the next instalment given the nature of the conclusion, but again that is not something that can be held against Infinity War. This is a powerful and poignant movie; a must-see for any MCU fan and a revelation in the genre, showing yet again why Marvel Studios convincingly remains at the top of their game. As ever, be sure to stay until the end of the credits.
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Posted : 6 months, 3 weeks ago on 27 April 2018 01:07 (A review of The Disaster Artist)
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Not many bad films are as infamous or as iconic as 2003's The Room, with its shockingly inept filmmaking and tuneless acting positioning the production as a cult oddity - the very definition of "so bad it's good." 2017's The Disaster Artist seeks to chronicle the bizarre story behind The Room's creation, examining the circumstances that led to its second life as a cult phenomenon. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now), the movie is based on the 2013 non-fiction book of the same name by one of The Room's leading actors, Greg Sestero. It's ideal fodder for a motion picture, reminiscent of Tim Burton's 1994 comedy-drama Ed Wood. With James Franco both directing and starring, The Disaster Artist is an entertaining, funny and unexpectedly poignant comedic biopic, as well as an affectionate tribute to The Room that fans of the cult classic really ought to see.
Hoping to make it big as an actor, Greg (Dave Franco) is unable to swallow his inhibitions, but finds himself inspired by the utter fearlessness of fellow acting student Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). The pair strike up an unlikely bond based around movies and acting, though Tommy espouses an odd, indeterminate accent, and is very mysterious, refusing to answer any personal questions. With their friendship blossoming, Tommy offers Greg the opportunity to live in his apartment in Los Angeles, and both of them make the move, hoping to achieve their acting dreams. While Greg lands himself an agent (played by Sharon Stone) and is soon offered minor roles, Tommy is less successful, which frustrates him. On a whim, Tommy decides to write and self-finance his own passion project, The Room, for which he offers a major role to Greg. However, Tommy has no idea how to make a movie. Employing a small crew, The Room enters production, but it's a debacle from the start, and Greg's patience with Tommy begins to wear thin. As the shoot goes over-schedule, Greg can only hope that his career will survive.
Despite Franco's omnipresence in the marketing materials, the narrative is framed from Greg's perspective, which leaves Wiseau as an enigma. Tommy tells everyone he's from New Orleans (and denies having an accent), claims to be Greg's age, chastises people for talking about him, and deflects all questions about him, refusing to reveal how he appears to have unlimited funds. Franco thankfully does not fall victim to hero worship, showing how off-the-rails Tommy became during the shoot for The Room - he refuses to pay for air conditioning, mistreats co-star Juliette (Ari Graynor) while filming the (very uncomfortable) sex scene, and acts possessive when Greg is offered a small role in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle. The screenplay hews reasonably close to reality (in accordance with Greg's book), though certain events are altered, while other things are missing or truncated. For instance, in real life, The Room cast and crew members were constantly replaced, and there was more to the shooting of Wiseau's first scene as an actor. In addition, the movie sees Tommy quickly embracing The Room's unintentional hilarity at the premiere, which is fictional. However, The Disaster Artist is a dramatisation first and foremost, and it definitely works well enough as a self-contained movie to excuse any minor inaccuracies.
In spite of a scant $10 million budget, The Disaster Artist is competent from top to bottom; the cinematography by the brilliant Brandon Trost (The Interview, This is the End) is striking, and the spot-on recreation of the late '90s and early 2000s is ostensibly effortless. A considerable portion of The Disaster Artist is dedicated to The Room's production, exploring as many peculiar moments from the shoot as possible without losing sight of pacing. Since Tommy is the boss, the increasingly disgruntled crew are compelled to cater to his ridiculous whims - for instance, the movie is simultaneously shot on digital video and on 35mm, the shoot goes way beyond the forty-day schedule, and Tommy insists on laughing in response to a serious story about domestic violence. Members of the crew are both nervous and unsure about what they have gotten themselves into, while Tommy genuinely believes that he has written a powerful American story of betrayal. Nevertheless, despite the movie's many humorous moments, The Disaster Artist is not an outright mockery; Franco explores Tommy's feelings of inadequacy and alienation, and he is genuinely hurt when he hears his crew making fun of him or putting him down.
Wiseau has publicly stated that only Johnny Depp or Franco could play him in a movie, and it's no surprise that Franco's Golden Globe-winning performance is a knockout. Although Franco's mimicry of Wiseau's bizarre Eastern European accent is not exactly spot-on, the transformation from a physical and vocal standpoint is still outstanding, and he truly embodies the man, fully committing to the material. Alongside him, Franco's brother Dave makes for a terrific straight man to Wiseau's eccentricities. The leading pair are so focused that it's easy to get involved in the story and forget that they're brothers. It's no wonder they share such palpable and effective chemistry. An amicable collection of actors fill out the ensemble, with the likes of Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson portraying The Room's cast and crew members, while Bob Odenkirk, Sharon Stone, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress and many others also make appearances. Cameos are plentiful throughout The Disaster Artist, from Bryan Cranston playing himself, to Zoey Deutch (Franco's Why Him? co-star) and Randall Park (Kim Jong-un in The Interview) as acting students, and even producer Judd Apatow playing a Hollywood big shot. Wiseau himself even has a scene, though that's saved for after the end credits.
In the tradition of movies like Ed Wood and Bowfinger, The Disaster Artist is an engaging and edifying true-life chronicle, as well as a dramatically satisfying and entertaining motion picture in its own right. However, with the film clocking in at a lean 95 minutes excluding credits, it does feel a bit on the short side; there could have been more scenes on the set of The Room, and the editing process is not explored. Still, anything more might risk feeling like self-indulgence, and Greg was not involved in The Room's post-production. Devout fans of Wiseau's "masterpiece" will get the most out of The Disaster Artist, but even the uninitiated will be able to appreciate and laugh at this compelling dramedy. As a bonus, the ending is tagged with clips from The Room compared side-by-side with re-enactments by the cast of The Disaster Artist, which is a treat. Also, be sure to stick around for the post-credits scene featuring the real Wiseau himself.
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Posted : 8 months ago on 14 March 2018 07:40 (A review of Fair Game)
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A somewhat obscure "Ozploitation" action-thriller from 1986, Fair Game is more competent than its status as a cult VHS rental might imply. Reportedly produced for a scant $1.26 million, the film is overly simplistic and pared-down, clocking in at an economic 86 minutes which does not permit much time for significant character development, but it’s undeniably thrilling thanks to the superb stunt-work and taut editing. There are traces of revenge movies like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left in Fair Game's narrative DNA, but the archetypal genre tropes are filtered through an Australian perspective, which gives it a unique flavour and more visual appeal. Exciting and entertaining, Fair Game deserves more recognition than it appears to receive.
An attractive young animal enthusiast, Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) runs a wildlife sanctuary in the Australian outback, spending her days tending to the needs of the local fauna. However, she is confronted by a trio of kangaroo hunters - Sunny (Peter Ford), Ringo (David Sandford) and Sparks (Gary Who) - who begin hunting animals on her sanctuary. Jessica tries to put up a fight to protect the animals, but this only shifts the hunters' attention to her. Stranded at her homestead after her car breaks down, and with no phone to call the police, Jessica is left to fend for herself as the kangaroo hunters begin to terrorise and abuse her, with potentially lethal consequences.
With a script credited to Rob George, Fair Game's narrative is almost defiantly uncomplicated, and the story admittedly proceeds with flimsy slasher movie logic - after all, there's no real reasonable motivation for the three hunters to begin terrorising Jessica outside of simply being bored. She does interfere with their poaching, but reacting by torturing and trying to kill her is a bit extreme. In addition, character development is slim at best - outside of a few surface-level attributes like being an animal lover, Jessica has no discernible personality. Apparently the film ran considerably longer in earlier workprint versions before being cut down to its final length of 86 minutes, but none of the excised footage has been released. Perhaps there was originally meant to be more to the narrative and the characters, but one can only speculate. To be sure, the fact that the action starts early (the first chase is literally four minutes in) and scarcely lets up does make for fast-paced viewing, but the movie does start to feel a tad repetitive in its final third. The level of torture progressively builds in intensity and severity, but there is still not quite enough variety to sustain the movie.
Fair Game was shot by legendary Kiwi cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who went on to shoot the 1986 Aussie crocodile flick Dark Age, all six Middle-earth movies, and many more. The beautiful Australian outback is, of course, the real star of this movie, and Lesnie's photography wonderfully shows off the outback landscapes, while the action sequences are comprehensible and well-shot. Shot on grainy 35mm film, there's a gritty, visceral intensity to the production, with the homestead and all of the vehicle feeling authentic and lived-in, while the stunts and pyrotechnics hold up all these years on. The stunt-work is simply outstanding, with intense chase sequences and breathtaking set-pieces, the likes of which would require digital effects if the movie was produced in the 21st Century. There's a genuine thrill inherent to watching perilous stunts from this pre-digital era, before CGI could be used to enhance action set-pieces or even remove safety wires. Fair Game really feels like more than just another VHS cheapie, as Mario Andreacchio's direction is surprisingly assured, production values are convincing, and the film editing by Andrew Prowse (The Siege of Firebase Gloria) is tight. Also commendable is the design of The Beast, the truck that is driven by the kangaroo hunters. The visuals are nicely complemented by Ashley Irwin's original score, which is on the cheesy side at times, but is effective and exciting more often than not.
Delaney (who slightly resembles a young Linda Hamilton) was only in her early 20s at the time of shooting and did not have much feature film experience, but she throws herself into the role both physically and mentally. It's a convincing performance, and precisely what Fair Game needed to anchor the story. The kangaroo hunters, meanwhile, are easy to dislike, and the actors do an adequate job with the material for the most part, stilted though they occasionally may be. Dialogue is not always successful, however, with some tin-eared chatter that needlessly underscores the on-screen action when purely visual storytelling would have been sufficient and, frankly, superior.
With its energetic direction, snappy pace and rousing action set-pieces, Fair Game is better than it probably had a right to be, though don't expect any underlying themes or emotion. This is hollow but well-executed Ozploitation, pure and simple, and it thankfully never feels too uncomfortably sadistic or in poor taste. Although the film is brutal when the occasion calls for it, the violence does admittedly feel relatively tame, even for a 1980s production. Certain moments are on the histrionic side, and the movie never exactly feels expensive, but Fair Game has aged gracefully for the most part, which is a huge credit to the filmmakers. For those who enjoy old-fashioned revenge thrillers, this Aussie production should prove to be a satisfying sit.
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Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 26 February 2018 09:50 (A review of Accident Man (2018))
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More than just another cheap, nasty direct-to-video action movie, 2018's Accident Man actually represents a long-gestating passion project for star/co-writer/co-producer Scott Adkins, and his enthusiasm shines through in the finished product. An adaptation of the "Accident Man" comic strips from the early 1990s written by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, there is so much flavour, wit and charm to the picture, which elevates it above any number of other low-budget action titles currently flooding the marketplace. Admittedly, there might not be much originality to the narrative, as it boils down to a revenge story with little in the way of surprising twists or turns, but it's a hugely entertaining watch nevertheless, invigorated by the details of this assassin underworld and a goofy sense of humour.
A ruthless assassin, Mike Fallon (Adkins) is known as the "Accident Man," as he specialises in methodically eliminating targets and making each death look like an accident. Fallon is a member of an underground league of assassins ruled by Big Ray (Ray Stevenson), while Milton (David Paymer) takes care of liaising with clients and assigning the contracts to the appropriate killer/s. But when Fallon's ex-girlfriend Beth (Brooke Johnston) is found dead after an apparent burglary, and another assassin tries to kill Fallon, he believes that there's more to the story. Confiding in Beth's devastated girlfriend Charlie (Ashley Greene), Fallon suspects that fellow assassin duo Mick (Michael Jai White) and Mac (Ray Park) were involved in Beth's killing, forcing him to put his life in jeopardy as he becomes determined to find out who put out the hit. Meanwhile, his own crew are ordered to hunt him down.
At first glance - with the picture's voiceover narration, excessive violence, sense of humour and assassin bar - Accident Man does look like a British Deadpool rip-off, but that's an erroneous assumption. The comic book source on which the movie is based actually went to print before a single "Deadpool" comic was published, and Adkins had been working on the screenplay with Stu Small long before 2016's Deadpool lit up the box office. Despite the writers' inexperience (it's the first screenplay credit for both men), the script represents an agreeable adaptation of the first Accident Man comic book story, with little touches to modernise the material. Furthermore, whereas most modern superhero franchises feel the need to spend an entire feature exploring its protagonist's origins, Accident Man only spends fifteen minutes showing how Fallon got his start as an assassin, set to voiceover narration by Adkins, revealing everything that we need to know. On that note, Fallon's introduction is note-perfect as well, observing the professional contract killer carrying out a job (and taking a selfie with the corpse) before blowing off some steam by deliberately getting into a bar brawl.
With a meagre budget, there was no leeway for any large-scale, CGI-laden action set-pieces, and therefore Accident Man relies on the martial arts prowess of its stars to deliver thrills. Once the movie kicks into high gear at about the hour mark, the action is almost non-stop all the way through to the end credits. Smartly, the cast is filled out by capable fighters - aside from Adkins, there is also the likes of Jai White (Black Dynamite) and Park (Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace), while actress/stunt-woman Amy Johnston (playing Jane the Ripper) proves to be adept with a samurai sword. It's a treat to watch these seasoned professionals throwing down, aided by outstanding fight choreography and smooth camerawork which ensures that we can always comprehend what's going on. Luckily, there's enough variety to the bruising, brutal action set-pieces to prevent things from feeling repetitive or monotonous, and pacing is assured. Outside of a few moments (including a shonky climactic decapitation), Accident Man fortunately doesn't feel necessarily cheap - it's a slickly-constructed undertaking on the whole, with director Jesse V. Johnson making the most of the limited funds at his disposal. (Of course, it may appear cheap to those smug hipsters who download a low-quality pirate copy, but it looks top-notch in pristine high definition.) Johnson is something of a direct-to-video action luminary, having previously helmed Savage Dog with Adkins (among many other flicks), making him a perfectly sufficient directorial choice.
Adkins has appeared in a few major motion pictures, but they often fail to take advantage of the actor's insane abilities. Hell, in the likes of Doctor Strange and The Expendables 2, he was just a henchman with minimal screen-time. Accident Man, however, is the star vehicle that Adkins has always deserved, showcasing his terrific martial arts skills as well as his innate charm as a performer, and it's therefore a bit of a shame that this movie isn't a bigger deal. The comic book portrayal of Fallon was a bit more refined with more expensive tastes, but Adkins is nevertheless an ideal pick; he's gruff yet charismatic, making the character his own. And unlike his iconic role of Boyka in the Undisputed sequels, Adkins gets to make use of his natural English accent here. There's a sizeable ensemble of assassins in Accident Man, and the movie efficiently introduces them one-by-one before getting into the story proper.
Permeated with a distinctively British sensibility in its dry sense of humour and use of songs, Accident Man will appeal to fans of Adkins and should satisfy those who like the comics. Hell, movie-goers just seeking a fun time should find a lot to like about this actioner. It never takes itself too seriously and it definitely wears its R rating on its sleeve, which makes this an easy recommendation for fans of '80s and '90s genre flicks, but it's probably not a movie for the easily offended. Fast-paced and lean at 105 minutes, Accident Man is an insanely fun independent British action flick, as well as a pleasingly accurate representation of the source material. With its unique energy and flavour, you will be left yearning for a sequel.
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Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 21 February 2018 01:50 (A review of The Dish (2000))
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Masterminded by the same quartet responsible for 1997's The Castle (Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Jane Kennedy), The Dish is another thoroughly delightful Australian drama-comedy, as well as a welcome history lesson that zeroes in on overlooked but important events from 1969. Devoid of big expensive special effects, the charms of The Dish are derived from its astute character work, the affable ensemble cast, and its dry, typically Aussie sense of humour. But above all of that, the film tells a simple yet amazing true-life story about dedication which will linger in your mind long after the end credits have expired. In short, The Dish is the perfect alternative to generic action blockbusters or dumb, crude American comedies, and it developed into something of an internationally beloved motion picture for good reason.
Before the launch of Apollo 11 in July of 1969, NASA reaches out to the small rural Australian town of Parkes, which is home to the largest radio telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. Situated in the middle of a sheep paddock, Houston seeks to use the dish to receive and relay transmissions from Apollo 11 in the Southern Hemisphere, including both communications and the images of the prestigious moon landing itself. The telescope is operated by pipe-smoking "dishmaster" Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill), along with Mitch (Kevin Harrington) and Glenn (Tom Long), while young Rudi (Taylor Kane) harbours great pride for his role as the dish's Head of Security. To supervise things, NASA sends along a representative in Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton). With the Apollo 11 mission getting underway, local Mayor Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing) could not be more excited or proud about his town's involvement with NASA, schmoozing a United States Ambassador (John McMartin) as he awaits the arrival of the Prime Minister (Billie Brown).
The story of the Apollo 11 astronauts and the 1969 moon landing is surely well-known enough, as it has been told many times before in motion pictures and documentaries. The Dish therefore relegates that story to the background, eschewing an American viewpoint to concentrate on an element of the Apollo 11 mission that's seldom written about. The Dish takes place entirely in the town of Parkes, and never cuts away to any dramatic recreations of the astronauts aboard Apollo 11. Naturally, the script does take certain liberties with history, such as somewhat minimising the role of NASA's Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station near Canberra, but it's not a big deal - after all, most historical films are fictionalised to some extent. What matters is that The Dish is dramatically satisfying and well-rounded, framed around an aging Buxton who visits the radio telescope to gaze upon her again, which brings back memories.
The Dish is packed with subplots to add further colour to the story, as this is more than just another movie about the moon landing - it's primarily about a town gathering together, as well as the unsung courage of the individuals whose indispensible contributions are often overlooked. There is a sweet subplot involving the shy Glenn, who playfully flirts with pretty local girl Janine (Eliza Szonert), while the visitation of the American Ambassador at one stage forces the dish crew to fake a radio transmission with Apollo 11. The Dish is very funny, but it earns hearty belly-laughs through genuinely witty writing, as it's devoid of crude or mean-spirited content. Indeed, rest assured that even though it carries a PG-13 rating for a single use of the word "fuck," the movie is suitable for all audiences.
Sitch may be the only credited director on the project, but the closing credits make it clear that credit for The Dish belongs to the four-person team of Sitch, Cilauro, Gleisner and Kennedy, as they wrote, produced and conceived the movie together. Backed by a modest budget, The Dish may not carry the slick appearance of a big-budget Hollywood movie, but it's agreeably old-fashioned in its cinematic approach, demeanour and laid-back pacing. Miraculously, the movie never necessarily feels like a low-budget endeavour, as it does not look cheap or nasty. Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Graeme Wood, the movie carries a warm appearance and is full of period details, effortlessly and subtly evoking the late 1960s. In addition, Sitch and co. make extensive use of archival video and audio clips at various points to amplify the illusion and further set the scene. The climactic moon landing itself is incredibly touching, and Sitch wisely lets the event speak for itself by relying on the archival material. The sequence drives home the real significance of the event, which could have ended in disaster at any point, and it's rewarding to see the main characters' hard work paying off. The accompanying original score by Edmund Choi (who also scored The Castle) is suitably majestic and full of flavour, while the movie also features an agreeable selection of memorable classic songs ("The Real Thing") and pieces of music ("Classical Gas").
The ensemble cast is filled out by a terrific selection of Aussie actors, from the always-reliable Billing as the Mayor, to The Castle's Charles 'Bud' Tingwell as a Reverend. Perhaps the most recognisable face in the cast is Neill (a New Zealand native), who brings his trademark gravitas and warmth to the role of Cliff Buxton. The acting is convincing and natural across the board, with spot-on comedic timing from everybody in the ensemble. Good-natured, funny, touching and warm, The Dish further verifies that the Working Dog team have a knack for creating films that manage to be dramatic and funny, whilst never taking themselves too seriously or talking down to the audience. And all on a meagre budget that would barely covering the catering of a major Hollywood production. The Dish is a genuine cinematic treat.
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Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 20 February 2018 02:57 (A review of Silver Bullet (1985))
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Produced and released in the shadow of successful werewolf flicks like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, 1985's Silver Bullet represents an adaptation of the Stephen King novella (or "novelette," according to the opening credits) "Cycle of the Werewolf." King himself actually penned the screenplay, denoting the second of three occasions for which he adapted his own works for the big screen during the 1980s - Silver Bullet came a couple years after Cat's Eye in 1983, and just before 1986's Maximum Overdrive (for which King also made his directorial debut). Directed by Daniel Attias (who was fresh out of film school at the time), Silver Bullet has admittedly dated in a number of respects, but it has charm in spades and remains an entertaining watch thanks to its goofy sense of humour.
In the New England town of Tarker's Mill, Maine, a sudden series of violent murders leaves the locals on edge. Unbeknownst to the townspeople, the "serial killer" is actually a werewolf who is capable of ripping its victims to shreds and cannot be killed through conventional methods. After venturing out at night to set off fireworks in his wheelchair-cum-motorcycle known as the "Silver Bullet," paraplegic youth Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim) becomes convinced that a werewolf is killing the locals, but his suspicions are not shared by his sceptical sister Jane (Megan Follows) or their alcoholic uncle, Red (Gary Busey). With the townsfolk taking things into their own hands by assembling a vigilante justice group to the horror of Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) and Sheriff Haller (Terry O'Quinn), Marty hopes to convince Jane and Red about the werewolf's existence, and is determined to stop it before they become lunchmeat.
The slim 126-page "Cycle of the Werewolf" novella was episodic, but Silver Bullet disposes of such a structure, tying everything together by concentrating primarily on Marty and his family. In a way, the resulting movie feels like a slasher in which the killer happens to be a lycanthrope as opposed to a more generic psychotic, and there is a mystery at the centre of the story in regards to who the werewolf is. King weaves themes into the fabric of the narrative relating to small-town Americana, while the central characters are nursing wounds of some sort - Red is an alcoholic, Marty is disabled, and so on. In addition, the idea is introduced that the victims are sinners who go against God, deepening the beast's motivation. The werewolf costume was designed by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi, who earned Oscars for his contributions to 1976's King Kong remake, as well as Alien and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Despite the pedigree involved, the rubbery werewolf looks mediocre at best - we've seen more menacing beasts in motion pictures before and since. Still, many of the special effects have held up surprisingly well, particularly the transformation sequences and some of the gore effects. In one standout dream scene, all of the locals begin to turn into werewolves, which is a terrific showcase for the sterling special effects.
Deliberate or otherwise, there is a healthy sense of humour which runs throughout Silver Bullet to keep it compulsively watchable and frequently enjoyable. It's doubtful that first-time viewers circa 2018 will necessarily find the picture scary, but there are a number of effective set-pieces scattered throughout nevertheless, with convincingly-executed graphic violence depicting each victim's grisly demise. Attias actually intended the film to be rated PG-13 and play out more as a teen-friendly adventure, but super-producer Dino De Laurentiis kept pushing for more gore and violence to heighten the horror. Some have criticised this decision, but the R-rating gives Silver Bullet more bite and raises the stakes, making us believe that the characters really are in danger. This was actually Attias' feature film debut (Phantasm director Don Coscarelli was originally attached before dropping out over the old "creative differences" chestnut), but the filmmaker never tackled another theatrical movie again (to date) - instead, he became a successful television director, helming episodes of The Sopranos, The Wire, Alias and many more. The original score by Jay Chattaway, meanwhile, is a real standout. The compositions do sound distinctively '80s, but the score also carries plenty of flavour and accentuates the horror when necessary.
Busey sinks his teeth the role of Uncle Red, helping to heighten the movie's sense of humour. Rather than slavishly sticking to the script, Busey actually improvised a fair bit (with King's blessing) to terrific effect - particularly amusing is his exclamation of "Holy jumped-up bald-headed Jesus palomino!" Busey is the definite standout in this ensemble, chewing the scenery at every opportunity, and fans of the actor (yes, they exist) should seek this one out. Other note-worthy actors fill out the cast, including the always-reliable Everett McGill (1989's Licence to Kill) as well as Corey Haim (The Lost Boys), and even Terry O'Quinn (perhaps best known for TV's Lost). Although the performances may not be anything to write home about for the most part, they are effective enough. Silver Bullet is predictable to a certain degree, and the ending is overly pat after a noticeably brief climactic showdown, but the picture nevertheless has a distinct charm. It will appeal to those who enjoy '80s horror movies like Fright Night and Evil Dead 2.
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Posted : 9 months ago on 18 February 2018 12:47 (A review of IT (2017))
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The literary works of celebrated author Stephen King have been adapted into dozens of feature films, but 2017's It represents one of the most successful page-to-screen translations to date. An adaptation of King's 1000-page novel of the same name published in 1986, this proficiently-constructed and riveting horror endeavour is also one of the best contemporary genre films of the decade, thanks to the laudable efforts of director Andy Muschietti and the three credited screenwriters. King's "It" novel was previously turned into a television miniseries all the way back in 1990, but Muschietti's update more than justifies its existence, bringing the source to life in extraordinary ways and finding its own voice. The picture is certainly frightening, but It primarily excels because the screenplay shows interest in dramatics and character development as opposed to just lazy jump scares. Indeed, viewers simply seeking fast-paced, undemanding instant gratification may be advised to look elsewhere.
In the small town of Derry, Maine, dozens of unsolved child disappearances occur once every generation. With school finished for the summer of 1989, a curfew is in place after a number of children vanish without a trace, including Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), who left home during a rainstorm to sail his paper boat but never returned. Thoughts about Georgie plague his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), the de-facto leader of a group of social outcasts branded as The Losers' Club. Refusing to accept that Georgie is gone for good, Bill seeks the assistance of his friends - Ritchie (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) - to investigate. The group, who are abused by psychotic town bully Henry (Nicholas Hamilton), are soon taunted by visions of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), a sinister shape-shifting demonic entity from which nightmares are made. Pennywise only awakens every 27 years to feed on the children of Derry before returning to hibernation, and the Losers refuse to become his next victims, banding together to confront their worst fears and overthrow the clown.
Whereas King's book was partially set in the late 1950s, this adaptation shifts the story to 1989, which will allow the second half (in the upcoming sequel) to unfold in present-day. Muschietti and his team manage to seamlessly weave '80s pop culture references into the picture to vividly evoke this particular time and place - for instance, a local cinema marquee advertises Lethal Weapon 2, Batman and A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, while a poster for Gremlins is displayed on a bedroom wall, and Ben desperately tries to conceal his fandom for the boy band New Kids on the Block. A healthy sense of humour is evident throughout the film (the one-liners are almost endless) which keeps it enjoyable and watchable, on top of being frightening. There is a minor Stranger Things vibe due to the young characters and '80s setting, but one must bear in mind that It was in active development before the Netflix series initially dropped. (Interestingly, the Stranger Things masterminds - The Duffer Brothers - were actually in the running to direct It at one stage.)
Clocking in at a hefty 135 minutes (including credits), It's length may be daunting, and it does feel like a full meal, but Muschietti uses the generous length to deal with characterisations and drama. The town of Derry almost feels like the true villain of the story, as many of the elders are portrayed as predatory and uneasy, while Henry is a violent, deranged psychopath of a bully who does not balk from carving letters into Ben's stomach with a knife. Members of The Losers' Club have their own personal issues to contend with, and the material is exceedingly adult; Beverly is ostracised for false rumours of promiscuity and suffers sexual abuse at the hands of her father, for example, while Eddie has a domineering, obese mother who keeps him feeling paranoid about his health, and Mike is bullied due to the colour of his skin. However, certain fragments of the narrative appear to be missing, and some parts of King's book were reportedly excised. There are talks of an extended cut which could rectify this, even though the movie is certainly long in its current state and could probably stand to be a bit tighter - certain scenes or moments could be removed.
The original It miniseries was understandably held back by its budget as well as the constraints of network television and early 1990s televisual aesthetics, but this update had more freedom to truly explore King's macabre imagination and do justice to the literary source. Backed by a $35 million budget and with a hard R rating in place, It is gruesome and unsettling, with a violent opening attack to set the scene. Pennywise takes several other forms throughout the picture, with his antics being aided by digital trickery and visceral make-up to convey the breadth of the character's evilness. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it is unquestionably chilling and unnerving, and it has its terrifying moments. Muschietti belies his relative inexperience (he last oversaw 2013's underwhelming Mama) to orchestrate the horror here with the confidence of a genre veteran. Muschietti and his team generate scares using imagery, periods of silence, well-judged music and an intricately-designed sound mix, exhibiting more creativity than any number of more formulaic genre endeavours. The cinematography by Korean maestro Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) exhibits unending visual flair - compositions are strong and lighting is exceptional, making great use of shadows. Flawlessly complementing the visuals is Benjamin Wallfisch's spine-chilling original score, while there is also a selection of great '80s tunes to give the picture more flavour and emphasise the period setting. Admittedly, not all of the CGI-enhanced mayhem is entirely successful, but this is a minor quibble.
More than just a series of tormented encounters, It takes the time to delve into the trials of adolescence - it's more of a coming-of-age movie like Stand By Me as opposed to just another run-of-the-mill horror offering. Beverly becomes an object of desire for the boys - Ben acts as a secret admirer from a distance as he writes poetry, while Bill can only stare at her, struggling to find the courage to make a move. Characterisations are exceptional; each Loser is distinctly-drawn and they all have an individual handicap, be it social, physical or ethnic. They bond because they do not care that Ben is overweight or Bill has a stutter, and their camaraderie is instantly palpable - it's easy to believe that they're all friends, especially since the actors became fast friends in real life. This gives the movie genuine heart, as we grow to care about the people being victimised, and the horrific moments with Pennywise therefore carry an even bigger sting. From top to bottom, the acting is remarkable and naturalistic - there is not a single weak link in the ensemble. It can be hard to find talented child actors, but everybody here hits their mark. Even if you don't find the movie scary, it's still enjoyable to watch the kids interacting with one another, which is important since Pennywise remains out of the picture surprisingly often despite being the primary antagonist.
Filling Tim Curry's shoes would be a daunting task for any actor, but Swedish model Skarsgård (son of Stellan) excels all reasonable expectations to pull off arguably the definitive portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Covered in astonishingly nuanced make-up, Skarsgård avoids a single-note performance, changing up his tone and mannerisms depending on the situation, and coming across as an intimidating presence. It also helps that the actor is so tall, towering over his young co-stars. It's truly a transformative performance, representing one of the production's biggest assets. Just see the much-publicised scene with Pennywise in the sewer talking to Georgie - Skarsgård is such a powerhouse that you hang off every word, and the scene is incredibly tense.
1990's It covered both parts of King's novel across its two episodes, but 2017's It only covers the first (it actually ends with a "Chapter One" title card) to give the story sufficient breathing room whilst still emerging as a satisfying standalone motion picture in its own right. Transcending its horror roots, this is an engaging and often terrifying coming-of-age fable, able to remain interesting between the scary set-pieces, and even bring out genuine emotion. This may be a long movie, but it stands up to repeat viewings and does not feel like a chore to get through. With the long-gestating The Dark Tower turning out to be a distilled, muddled disappointment, It is the year's superior Stephen King adaptation. To predict that this masterwork will go down in cinema history as an all-time horror classic (alongside the likes of The Shining, The Exorcist and The Thing) does not feel either hyperbolic or rash.
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Posted : 9 months ago on 14 February 2018 01:01 (A review of Security)
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A modestly-budgeted, old-fashioned R-rated actioner with a Die Hard-esque narrative, Security gets enough right to justify a recommendation for movie-goers who enjoy genre flicks from the '80s and '90s. It's basically Die Hard meets Assault on Precinct 13 in a shopping mall (shades of Dawn of the Dead?), and it is overly predictable, but director Alain Desrochers compensates for the picture's formulaic construction by infusing the material with zest and verve. Created for a meagre $15 million, Security is more purely enjoyable than any number of blockbusters that cost three or four times as much - and it's a nice alternative in an age where big-budget superhero films rule the box office on a consistent basis. In addition, Security is more than just another cheap, nasty direct-to-video action flick; it's surprisingly well-made and deserves more fanfare than it received.
A U.S. Military veteran who attained the rank of Captain, Eddie Deacon (Antonio Banderas) is desperate for employment. Despite being overqualified for minimum wage jobs, Eddie eagerly accepts a lowly position as a mall security guard in a rough neighbourhood to pay the bills and potentially allow him to reunite with his wife and daughter. Meeting shift supervisor Vance (Liam McIntyre) and the three other guards on shift, the night soon takes a turn for the worst when a teenage girl named Jamie (Katherine Mary de la Rocha) pounds on the door, pleading for protection. Not far behind is a team of armed mercenaries led by Charlie (Ben Kingsley), who seek to eliminate Jamie before she can testify at trial. Choosing to put his life on the line to protect Jamie, Eddie takes charge, whipping his fellow security officers in shape as they set up makeshift defences with whatever supplies they can find.
The screenplay by Tony Mosher (Mechanic: Resurrection) and John Sullivan (Recoil) is almost defiantly uncomplicated, eschewing subplots and drama to focus on action and narrative velocity. The idea is introduced that one of the security guards might betray Eddie for the sake of money or wanting to save their own bacon, but it's not followed through, which does feel like a case of Chekov's Gun failing to go off. In addition, clichés fly thick and fast, with Eddie depicted as a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working veteran who was dealt a rough hand, while Charlie is out-and-out evil. Do not expect any emotional resonance or thematic underpinnings either, and of course the movie is silly at times - characters rarely reload or seem to run out of ammo, people do contrived things which gets them killed, certain timings are very convenient, and so on. Still, pacing is assured (Security runs a lean 88 minutes), and there are a few tense scenes, such as when Charlie first meets the security staff face-to-face and Eddie suspects that not everything is as it seems.
Director Desrochers does not have any substantial credits on his résumé, but he acquits himself commendably with the material, making the most of the reported $15 million budget. Without any noticeable or phoney-looking CGI to spoil the old-school vibe, Desrochers relies on stunt-work, actual fire, practical blood squibs and blank-firing weapons, making Security feel like a lost gem from the early '90s. (It is a bit of a shame that it was shot digitally, rather than on film.) Action scenes are brutal, visceral and taut, while Banderas proves that he is still an adept physical performer even though he's in his 50s. However, the central mall lacks visual appeal and creativity. Whereas the high-rise Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard became its own distinctive character, the mall here simply looks like a soundstage, basic and generic, lacking its own identity. The security office is admittedly nicely-designed, but the rest looks hopelessly bland, which is the only aspect of the production where the restricted budget is apparent. However, Desrochers at least does a sufficient job of masking the fact that the flick was shot in Bulgaria.
Working to redeem himself after his atrociously cartoonish and grating performance in 2014's The Expendables 3, Banderas is down-to-earth as the John McClane type, coming across as human whilst also emerging as a believable action hero. Banderas has become somewhat of a low-budget action luminary - I mean, in 2017 alone he featured in Acts of Vengeance, Gun Shy, and Bullet Head, as well as Security - and he plays this type of role well. He certainly puts more effort into his movies than Steven Seagal. Meanwhile, Kingsley does what he can with what amounts to a bog-standard villain role, coming across as sinister enough even though he does overact. As young Jamie, the inexperienced Rocha noticeably struggles from time to time - she makes a fair few of her lines sound scripted, as if she was reading them from a cue card. It's not always a big issue, but she isn't as natural as the remainder of the cast. Luckily, Eddie's co-workers are believable and naturalistic for the most part, and ensure that they can be told apart from one another, though none of them exactly stand out.
Security doesn't reinvent the genre, nor does it try to do anything groundbreaking - the movie is content to be an entertaining if predictable collection of clichés. Perhaps mercifully, Desrochers never attempts any over-the-top set-pieces or moments that would be beyond the constraints of the budget - action scenes are athletic but grounded, and the climactic showdown amounts to a nail-biting mano a mano confrontation that's effective without being lathered in extensive digital effects. (Even if the moment itself is a blatant Die Hard rip-off.) Despite its silly moments and instances of shonky acting, Security delivers what it promises on the tin - it's an undemanding old-school pizza and beer flick, in the same vein as something like The Last Stand or The Expendables.
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Posted : 9 months, 1 week ago on 11 February 2018 06:25 (A review of The Big Sick)
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One of the most unexpected movie-going delights of 2017, The Big Sick is much more than just another fluffy Hollywood romantic comedy. Written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the movie is loosely based on the true story of their courtship and romance, eschewing forced sentiment and broad jokes to construct an effective dramedy with cross-cultural themes, an appealing cast, big laughs and heart aplenty. The movie was co-produced by the perpetually-busy Judd Apatow, who pushed Nanjiani to write the screenplay after hearing the real-life story on a podcast. And thank goodness it all worked out, as the autobiographical tale serves as the perfect basis for an affecting and amusing rom-com, one of the best that the genre has seen for some time.
An aspiring Pakistani-born comedian living in Chicago, Kumail (Nanjiani) hopes to earn a spot at a major upcoming comedy festival to further his career, while his traditional parents - Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) - frantically try to find a woman for him. But when Kumail meets a white, non-Muslim graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan), the pair find themselves entering a relationship, despite their mutual desire to remain unattached. Kumail is compelled to keep his relationship with Emily a secret, because his very strict family require him to enter an arranged marriage with a woman of the same race and religion. After a fight abruptly ends Kumail's romance with Emily, she winds up contracting a mysterious disease which compels the doctors to put her in a medically-induced coma. Kumail becomes Emily's temporary caretaker until her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), fly in from North Carolina. However, even despite the break-up, Kumail finds himself unable to return to his everyday life, staying at the hospital and bonding with Beth and Terry as Emily's condition baffles the hospital staff.
Since the screenplay is based on real-life experiences, there is a heightened sense of realism and honesty to the movie, earning laughs through witty dialogue rather than dumb, broad slapstick. When Emily is put into a coma, the actions of Beth and Terry ring true, from spending hours on end waiting at the hospital for any sort of news, to taking notes when speaking to the doctors, and Googling every tiny fragment of information about Emily's condition. The relationship that Kumail forms with Terry and Beth is wholly unforced; they're understandably hesitant to warm up to him, but Kumail manages to earn their respect and affection. Nanjiani and his wife spent a number of years writing and perfecting the Oscar-nominated screenplay, which also has a few things to say about the intolerance of modern-day America. Indeed, The Big Sick does not shy away from showing the bias towards Muslims, and wisely uses astute humour to lighten the mood. In addition, the movie realistically examines the struggle that comes with being biologically tied to one culture whilst living in and trying to assimilate into another.
Slickly assembled and shrewdly paced by director Michael Showalter (who previously worked with Nanjiani on 2015's Hello, My Name Is Doris), The Big Sick makes the most of its meagre $5 million budget, with pleasing cinematography and agreeable soundtrack choices. Despite the weightiness of the story's subject matter, Showalter miraculously manages to negotiate effective tonal changes throughout, earning laughs when appropriate whilst also creating something very poignant. The Big Sick is certainly lengthy, coming in at a hair under two hours including credits, but it's rarely boring or meandering. With such a generous runtime in place, the movie has leeway for smaller moments, including a painfully realistic and touching scene during which Kumail listens to old voicemails from Emily. Little looks and pauses are also permitted, but Showalter keeps the proceedings on a tight leash more often than not. However, the stand-up comedian world has been explored quite a bit on-screen in the past (including in Apatow's own Funny People), and The Big Sick is admittedly at its weakest when focusing on Kumail's stand-up friends improvising on-stage to mixed results. These sequences should be a bit leaner, particularly since the jokes are not that funny.
Admittedly, Nanjiani does look his age, which may be slightly jarring since he was in his 20s when the events of the story took place, but his performance is so focused and charming that it hardly matters. Playing himself, Nanjiani's comedic timing is spot-on, and he also proves to be an adept dramatic performer to boot - he imbues the movie with genuine heart, which is one of the things that elevates The Big Sick above the ordinary. Happily, Nanjiani is surrounded by a winning supporting cast, with Zoe Kazan a particular standout as Emily. Although she's absent for the second act due to the nature of Emily's illness, Kazan is effortlessly disarming, and handles the emotional moments with impressive assurance. In addition, the chemistry between Nanjiani and Kazan seriously sparkles. Meanwhile, Hunter and Romano play a bit against type, with the normally comedic Romano asked to call upon his dramatic chops and predominantly play things straight. Nevertheless, both thespians truly shine in their respective roles, adding more heart and coming across as believable parents.
Yes, The Big Sick does incorporate a few standard rom-com clichés, but that's inevitable, and it hardly matters since the picture is otherwise full of heart, originality and honesty. Some aspects of the story are exaggerated or changed compared to the real story as well, but it all adds up to a dramatically satisfying and well-rounded movie with the potential to appeal to a wide audience. The Big Sick is fun and funny, telling a worthwhile story whilst providing an edifying look into the difficulties of upholding familial and cultural traditions in contemporary society. Plus, even though this is a true story with a foregone conclusion, it's still easy to become fully invested in the picture and worry about what's going to happen in terms of both Emily's health and the fate of the central coupling. The Big Sick is a big winner all-round.
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Posted : 9 months, 1 week ago on 7 February 2018 03:19 (A review of Overdrive (2017))
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Overdrive is such a brazen, barefaced attempt to cash in on the success of the long-running Fast & Furious franchise that you almost have to admire the filmmakers for choosing to release it so soon after 2017's The Fate of the Furious. Written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas - who actually penned 2 Fast 2 Furious - the flick is more or less Fast & Furious mixed with the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, and it's all set in France to boot. To state the obvious, there is not much in the way of originality to Overdrive, nor is there a great deal of wit or intelligence, but against all odds, this formulaic actioner does manage to pass the time easily enough. It's also admittedly nice to see a car-based action movie without Vin Diesel and his insufferable ego taking centre stage.
Veteran car thieves Andrew (Scott Eastwood) and his half-brother Garret (Freddie Thorp) pull off a risky robbery in Marseille, targeting a rare Bugatti which was recently sold at auction. But the theft brings the pair to the attention of local crime figure Jacomo Morier (Simon Abkarian), the owner of the Bugatti in question. Begging for their lives, Andrew and Garret offer to steal a rare Ferrari from Morier's rival, Max Klemp (Clemens Schick), which would boost his valuable car collection. Morier agrees, permitting the half-brothers a mere seven days to prep, plan and pull off the complex heist. With the odds stacked against them, Andrew begins building a team, bringing in his girlfriend Stephanie (Ana de Armas), career thief Devin (Gaia Weiss), demolitions expert Leon (Joshua Fitoussi), and a crew of expert drivers. To make matters more complicated, a pair of Interpol agents as well as Morier's cousin (Abraham Belaga) are keeping tabs on the operation.
Playing out as if it was originally designed to be a minor Fast & Furious spinoff, the narrative is (perhaps mercifully) uncomplicated and lathers on the clichés, even introducing the "one last job before I go legit" routine for Andrew, who seeks to retire and live in peace with Stephanie. Of course the screenplay puts Stephanie in danger, and the boys manage to be one step ahead of their enemies, planning more than what meets the eye. (Traces of the Ocean's Eleven remake are apparent when the heist is being executed.) Devin also becomes a love interest for Garret, because apparently beautiful women can never remain unattached in these types of action flicks. Dialogue is tin-eared for the most part, not to mention eye-rollingly clichéd, while character names never stick because none of the roles are developed beyond the bare minimum of personality traits. Hell, the team of drivers are given such a quick introduction that their names are never said and most of them don't even have lines. The dramatics of the story never gain full traction since it's hard to get invested in the narrative or care about the characters - it just feels like the movie is going through the clichéd motions to get to the stunt driving.
Backed by a comparatively scant budget (approximately $30 million), there is not much leeway for the movie to go ridiculously over-the-top during the action sequences, and that's something of an asset - the primary set-pieces are welcomely grounded, relying on good old-fashioned stunt-work and stunt-driving as opposed to wall-to-wall digital effects (though there is still some shoddy CGI). The director, Antonio Negret, mostly works in television aside from a few minor feature films - he has overseen episodes of Lethal Weapon, Arrow, The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow, just to name a few, while he also helmed 2012's Transit. Negret's camera fetishistically lingers on all of the beautiful multi-million dollar automobiles, making this a worthwhile watch for all car-lovers. At least the movie is given a boost by its gorgeous, eye-catching European locales, and there's sufficient excitement to be experienced whenever Negret gives over to the stunt-drivers. Indeed, the sequences of fast cars and burning rubber are entertaining enough for a film of this pedigree.
Eastwood - who was actually added to the ever-expanding Fast & Furious ensemble cast in The Fate of the Furious - is actually one of the better up-and-coming action stars of late, emanating sufficient charisma and with his father's looks to boot. However, it's a real shame that there isn't a stronger group dynamic like in The Italian Job or Ocean's Eleven - most of Andrew's team are completely interchangeable, and the cast is filled with bland actors who look like Calvin Klein models. Even de Armas is given little to do, reduced to a one-dimensional damsel in distress role which is all the more disheartening after her exceptional performance in Blade Runner 2049. However, at least she has some degree of charisma, and plays well alongside Eastwood.
As fluffy action movies go, Overdrive is middle-of-the-road - it's not offensively terrible and it's at least watchable, providing some surface-level pleasures with its visceral set-pieces and gorgeous location work. And with "family" melodrama being kept to a minimum, it's arguably more entertaining than some of the movies in the Fast & Furious franchise. Still, it is flawed, and it feels closer to a television pilot than a major feature film. It does appear that the filmmakers behind Overdrive were hoping to carve out a franchise, as there's a direct set-up for a sequel, but considering the movie's abysmal box office performance (it grossed less than $5 million worldwide), this is more than likely the last we'll see of these characters. And that's probably for the best.
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